Thursday, March 30, 2017

Book Review: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Pages: 322
Genre: Adult Fiction
Pub. Date: September 13, 2016
Publisher: Harper
Source: Library
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.  Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them. When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another. Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together."
Beverly and Fix Keating are hosting a christening party for their second daughter. Beverly is a young and beautiful mother and Fix if your average guy.  The party seems to be going well until Bert Cousins walks into the party. He's uninvited and carrying with him a bottle of gin, which is obviously a strange christening gift, but surprisingly it goes over well with the crowd at the party.  Bert immediately becomes enamored with Beverly despite the fact they are both married. In fact, they share a stolen kiss at the party.  Fast forward some time and they are actually married and have left their marriages.  Things aren't easy though. Bert has kids of his own as does Beverly, so their matrimony is very Brady Bunch, especially when they are all together in Virginia. Commonwealth follows this family and the many ups and downs as years go by.  There's tragedy, there's secrets, and a whole lot of family drama in Ann Patchett's latest novel.  Fans of multi-generational novels as well as family dramas will enjoy this well-written novel the most.

I can't say there's a particular character that I'm drawn to in Commonwealth, but if I had to decide, I'd go with Franny as she seems the most normal.  Franny is Beverly and Fix's second daughter and the baby whose christening party started it all.  We follow her throughout her childhood and her complicated existence in a blended family. The novel continues to follow her into her late twenties when she is having an affair with a novelist.  This is important as he ends up writing a novel based on Franny's family.  Cue all the drama once the other family members figure this out.

That leads me to all the other family members in Commonwealth. They are simply horrible. Bert Cousins gets away from his young family by attending a christening party that he isn't even invited to, starts all this drama, and ends up divorcing his wife, Teresa, and leaves her to raise their four children.  A real winner of a guy.  He marries Beverly and they move to Virginia.  All of these abrupt changes make for resentful children and stepchildren that are forced together.  When they do have all the children, Beverly and Bert don't watch them; the kids are pretty much on their own, which leads to horrible things. As a mother, I found this appaling and I had a hard time reading certain passages, especially when it dealt with how the older children treated the youngest son.  It sort of broke my heart.

Without giving too much away, there's an accident in Commonwealth and I had a hard time wrapping my head around it as it didn't make sense to me. It involved a serious allergic reaction, but the child didn't have an Epi-pen. Perhaps the Epi-pen wasn't invented then, but wasn't there something better than just Benadryl, which they ran out of. Without giving too much away,  I was frustrated by this whole scene.

I will say that Patchett is a brilliant writer. I found her writing to be compelling despite the fact that I didn't really enjoy any character other than Franny.  She was able to manage so many different characters and points of view quite well; I wasn't once turned off by the various different perspectives and somehow I was able to keep the story straight despite the various time jumps.

When reading Commonwealth, I expected to be blown away, but as it turns out, I just thought it was an ok read. I am obviously in the minority when it comes to my thoughts on this novel as so many people loved it, but to me a great novel moves me. It keeps me up late at night. I am thinking about it for ages. And that was not the case with Commonwealth.  To be honest, there were many times that I wanted to put the novel down (for good!), but it's Patchett's writing that kept me hanging on and the idea of family stories...the idea that the truth is somewhere in between everyone's version of the past.

Have you read this award winning novel? What did you think of it?


  1. I haven't read anything by this author yet but I know that Bel Canto is incredibly popular with book groups so maybe I will start with that and skip this. I had been thinking of suggesting this book to my book groups at the library but after reading your review I'm not sure they'd like it though it sounds like there would be plenty to discuss. Thanks for your review!

    1. I hear Bel Canto is her best work. I'd definitely give that one a try. I think Commonwealth would be good for a book club. It definitely lends itself to a lot of discussion. Thanks for visiting, Christina!

  2. Wow. There's never going to be a dull moment in this family. I didn't realize how different this one is from her other novels, tbh. I'm a fan of pulling-up-a-chair-and- eat-popcorn while I watch a family drama go by so I'm sold! This is probably one of those instances where not relating to any particular character might just be acceptable.

    1. Haha. Yeah, this family is all about the drama. It was a very interesting blended family for sure. I think you'd appreciate this book, Joy, especially the writing. Thanks for visiting!


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